An urgent and moving exploration of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, The Forgetting is a dazzling meditation on the nature of memory and self and on the disease that robs people of both.
Alzheimer’s disease is a demographic time bomb. Since 1975, the number of Americans afflicted has risen from five hundred thousand to five million; over the next fifty years, an estimated eighty to one hundred million more people worldwide will succumb to it. But it is the story behind these numbers that makes The Forgetting such a landmark work. A magnificent synthesis of history, science, politics, psychology ,and profound human drama, the book explores the nature of a disease that attacks not merely memory but the very core of our human identity.
Delving into such diverse areas as art history, literature, genetics, and neurobiology, David Shenk shows that Alzheimer’s particular terror, the gradual eradication of memory and of mind is as old as humankind itself. He convincingly posits that such historical figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jonathan Swift and Frederick Law Olmstead were caught in the disease’s insidious grip. Moving portraits of contemporary patients, their families, and their caregivers drive home the sad pattern of regression Alzheimer’s exacts, a pathology that eerily mirrors child development in reverse. Yet Shenk offers a well of empathy and understanding for families striving to better understand and come to terms with their loss.
With equal mastery Shenk charts the complicated race to find a cure. As scientists pursue a treatment worth billions of dollars, the brutal competition among them poses a serious threat to the traditional ethic of sharing vital research. But there are heartening signs of progress, and for the first time there is excitement among scientists that a cure may indeed be possible.
Shenk eloquently calls Alzheimer’s “death by a thousand subtractions.” The Forgetting is at once a powerful examination of what this means and a forthright discussion of the impact this epidemic will have on the life of every reader.
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First attracted to his subject by its horrific ability to destroy the human mind and body, journalist David Shenk ultimately finds reasons to accept Alzheimer's disease--and almost forgive it--in The Forgetting. Shenk describes his work as a biography, the life story of a biological outlaw that sends victims "on a slow but certain trajectory toward forgetting and death." But his illuminating portrait of this growing epidemic offers more than a basic chronology. Shenk begins with the disease's christening in 1906, when German physician Alois Alzheimer discovered mysterious tangles and plaques in the brain of a dead woman who in life had suffered severe memory loss and dementia. The tale unfolds to reveal a host of intriguing players: struggling scientists (the clever, the bullheaded, and the pharmaceutically endowed), politicians divided by opposing priorities, exhausted caregivers, and patients whose biological clocks virtually tick backward over an average eight-year period. It includes impossible twists: longer life expectancies and successful treatments for other diseases mean more cases of Alzheimer's will inevitably occur. Shenk's graceful synthesis of personal accounts (from Plato to Reagan) with a century-long search for answers and cures leads him to an impressive conclusion. Perhaps Alzheimer's disease is much like winter: "Once it is gone, we'll face less hardship, but we'll also have lost an important lens on life." --Liane ThomasFrom the Back Cover:
“Riveting . . . Superb . . . A wonderfully readable history of the brain and of memory.” – San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“A remarkable addition to the literature of the science of the mind . . . Shenk has drawn together threads of neurobiology, art history, and psychology into a literary portrait of Alzheimer’s disease perfectly balanced between sorrow and wonder, devastation and awe.” – Los Angeles Times Book Review
“An elegant new book . . . Shenk rises above the usual rhetoric of combat and cure, enabling us to confront Alzheimer's not as an alien pestilence but as part of the human condition.” – Newsweek
“Written with a researcher’s attention to detail and a storyteller’s ear.” – The New York Times Book Review
“Destined to be a classic . . . Shenk’s guided tour is free of medical jargon, filled instead with clear and sometimes memorable phrasing.” – The Seattle Times
“A fascinating meditation . . . Shenk has found something beautiful and soulful in a condition that forces people to live in the perpetual ‘now.’ . . . Deeply affecting.” — The Washington Post Book World
“A graceful, masterful portrait of [the] illness. . . Readers can’t help but be taken by Shenk’s humanity and compassion, which brim throughout.” – The Los Angeles Times
“Compelling and immensely humane . . . Shenk’s integration of historical and scientific information and personal stories makes for an absorbing read.” — Newsday
“A dazzling literary and scientific history of Alzheimer’s disease.” — Detroit Free Press
“A brilliant and quirky new book on Alzheimer’s [that] offers food for thought on the unthinkable and a new, deeper understanding of the coming epidemic.” — Salon.com
“Carefully researched and engagingly written.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Shenk makes the science understandable and recounts personal stories that are both moving and illuminating. . . . A fascinating account of what memories are made of.” — Business Week
“An excellent new book.” — The New Yorker
“Beautifully written and philosophically minded.” — Time Out New York
“Fascinating . . . As good as the science in this book is, it takes a back seat to Shenk’s eloquent reflections on the meaning of memory and aging, and their connection to our sense of self.” — The Washington Monthly
“Absorbing and enlightening...an engrossing story.” – The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Told plainly and movingly. . . . Anyone appalled by the possibility of losing their mind, or who has watched another’s being stolen by Alzheimer’s, should read this excellent book: I guess that’s all of us.”– New Scientist
“Shenk is a wonderful writer on science....He has an eye for the social and financial forces that shape scientific interests and he brings key players, whether proteins or people, to dramatic life.” – The Independent (London)
“Highly recommended.” – Journal of the American Medical Association
“The definitive work on Alzheimer’s. A truly remarkable book.”–John Bayley, author of Elegy for Iris
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Book Description HarperCollins, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 2571749